Counterparties: Less is more green
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America is producing less of something, and for once, that’s good news: US carbon emissions are at their lowest level since 1994.
A decrease in emissions is definitely welcome, given the undeniable reality of global warming. And America did a bit more than just cut emissions. As a report from Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance details, the US invested $44 billion in renewables in 2012. That’s an 11% decline from the year before, but there’s still more money going into renewable energy than into any other energy source. Overall, US clean energy capacity is largely stagnant, while energy use has declined 6.4% since 2007.
America cut its carbon output without any help from federal legislation, and despite a largely symbolic energy secretary. Economics is taking the place of legislation: energy production from natural gas, wind, and solar is getting cheaper, and saving energy is easier than ever. New Energy Finance notes that gas consumption has dropped 5.7% since 2007, and buildings use 40% less energy per square foot than they did in 1980. US manufacturing is doing well (take a look at the latest ISM and GM sales numbers), so you can’t simply chalk up America’s carbon reduction to structural changes in the economy.
America is also burning less coal, which is terrific. Coal isn’t just carbon intensive: mining it destroys mountains, burning it is terrible for human health, and the ash is converted into a particularly toxic slurry.
A more mixed development is America’s increasing reliance on natural gas. That means lower emissions compared to coal or oil, but fracking has plenty of environmental problems that we know about, and likely still more to be uncovered.
The bad news, as ever for the environment, is China, which remains an economy powered by coal. As China’s skies show, throwing large amounts of money towards renewable energy can’t offset an addiction to coal. China might not be able to get its act together, but as Cass Sunstein smartly pointed out, that’s all the more reason for the US to do so. — Ben Walsh
On to today’s links: